Published by Tyson Otto, 14th November 2018 on foxsports.com.au
NBA superstar Jimmy Butler was supposed to bring the friction with him.
According to a series of cutting reports, issues of disharmony were already waiting for him when he arrived at the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday (AEDT).
The four-time All Star’s trade from Minnesota to Ben Simmons’ Sixers shows last year’s Eastern Conference finalists are prepared to play with fire.
They had to.
The consensus across NBA commentators is almost unanimous that Philly simply had to roll the dice after it took all of a couple games this season for scouts to realise the Sixers had fallen further behind Boston — while Toronto and Milwaukee have jumped them in the Eastern Conference pecking order.
Butler’s messy relationship breakdowns at the Wolves and Bulls has marked him a difficult troublemaker — as much as he continues to deny the accusations.
His arrival as the final member of Philly’s new Big Three was always going to prompt concerns about the team’s harmony. His recruitment is a completely new direction for “The Process”.
Stunningly, reports have emerged this week that suggest Butler can’t be blamed if the experiment blows up in the Sixers’ face.
Bleacher Report, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Sports Illustrated have all reported that the Sixers were already susceptible to a dressing room implosion even before Butler walked in with all his notorious swagger and baggage.
His recruitment has simply poured fuel on an already prepared pyre.
Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman has now reported the Sixers’ dressing room issues go deep.
Ben Simmons and superstar teammate Joel Embiid are near the centre of it.
“It’s become an open secret that Embiid and Simmons aren’t best of friends,” the report claimed.
“Embiid is an introvert who, going back to his high school days, has struggled with being told what to do. Simmons is also quiet, and there are already questions about how much time he devotes to his craft.”
Simmons and Embiid have reportedly come to a natural understanding of the work they are prepared to put in during practice and the work they expect their teammates to put in during practice.
Butler changes everything.
“There are league-wide whispers that Embiid and Simmons take a more casual approach to practice,” Sports Illustrated reported this week.
A source reportedly told si.com, the attitude of Philly’s twin towers will conflict immediately with Butler’s famous intensity.
The new addition either bites his tongue or he lifts his new teammates to his level — or the whole program burns, which remains a very real possibility.
An NBA scout has told The Philly Inquirer that Butler is more likely to clash with Simmons than Embiid.
“I can see Butler clashing with Simmons more than Embiid, because of work issues,” the veteran scout said.
“The owners wanted three stars. Now they have them. But can they make everything work?”
Of course Butler’s arrival is exactly what the Sixers needed — another shooting threat from the perimeter that can stretch defences and create space in the paint for Embiid and Simmons.
The issue is, Butler prefers having the ball in his hand to achieve this.
Simmons and fellow No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz are the same.
There already wasn’t enough ball to go around when it was just Simmons and Fultz wanting to control the offence. Now there is three of them who all need the ball in their hand to play their natural game.
“It’s more than fair to wonder whether Butler can coexist with the rest of this roster,”
The Philly Inquirer’s David Murphy wrote.
“In Ben Simmons, the Sixers have a young, ball-dominant alpha who has long been celebrated for his individual greatness. In Joel Embiid, they have a potential all-time great who also likes to have fun. But maybe there are two ways to look at it. Instead of wondering if Butler can fit with the young Sixers, you can hope that they end up fitting with him.”
They will need to if Butler is signed to the rumoured $190 million, five-year max deal expected to be tabled when Butler opts into free agency at the end of this season.
Butler’s new contract will come in the same off-season that the Sixers can begin negotiating Simmons’ first contract extension — a five-year supermax deal expected to be worth at least $190 million, to come into effect for the 2020-21 NBA season.
The team’s issues won’t finish when they lock down Butler, according to The Inquirer.
An Eastern Conference executive has reportedly told the newspaper that Butler will demand the keys to the city — if they team is able to secure his signature.
“Once he gets paid, Butler will become a pain in the ass,” the executive said.
Another league source who has worked with Butler at one of his previous two teams also predicted Butler will be too much for Philly to handle once he gets his next deal done.
“He’ll be in line until he gets that contract. Once you pay him, you have to turn the franchise over to him or you’ll have no chance.”
For what it’s worth, Butler insists he will make it work with his new teammates.
“I don’t think that anybody is going to step on anybody’s toes,” he said at yesterday’s press conference.
“I think everybody still has the same job to do, and everybody’s expected to be the same player that they’ve always been. That’s why I think it’s going to be successful.”
There’s already talk that Butler’s arrival spells an unavoidable exit for Fultz.
The 20-year-old star from University of Washington is expected to get forced into the back seat when Butler establishes himself.
Some have already declared Butler’s arrival is a sad sign the Sixers have given up on Fultz getting his mojo back any time soon — especially in an offence where he and Simmons choke each other’s natural rhythm.
“Whether he turns out to be a significant part of the Sixers’ future could come down to whether Butler eats him alive,” Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney wrote of Fultz.
“With Butler’s talent comes the scorched earth. The last time he joined a promising young team that was an imperfect basketball fit, Butler played at a fringe-MVP level, took the franchise back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and promptly set fire to the place.
“This is the sort of hazard the Sixers, after all their patience, have exposed themselves to.”